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Niger Delta Militant Group Calls Ceasefire in Nigeria Oil Region

In Nigeria, the main militant group in the Niger Delta has called for a ceasefire. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) made the announcement Thursday in response to the creation of a government agency to develop the oil-rich region.

VOA reporter Chinedu Offor is on assignment in Nigeria. From the capital, Abuja, he spoke to English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about why MEND has confidence in the latest government proposal.

"According to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the government has recognized that it needs to create an agency that would directly respond to the development of the Niger Delta in terms of infrastructure, environment and jobs for the young people. It says it has made these demands for several years without the government acting on it. And that by doing this, the government has shown its good faith in sincere efforts to solve the problems of the Niger Delta," he says.

After years or broken promises and failed efforts in the region, why would MEND trust the government at this point and vice-versa? Offor says, "For one, it is believed that the ministry was created because of the input of the vice-president, Jonathan Goodluck, who is from the Niger Delta. The government also has created what it calls a technical committee to put together concrete proposals for the development of the Niger Delta. The government has promised directly to fund this new agency without recourse to other ministries. And it is believed that someone from that area…will head this new ministry."

He says officials believe because local people will make up many of the ministry employees, corruption will be thwarted. Offor says, "The complaint has often been that strangers are running the ministries in charge of affairs of the Niger Delta."

Offor says because MEND is satisfied with the government's action so far, it has called a ceasefire and an end to the destruction of oil pipelines and to hostage taking that has plagued the Delta, with many foreign oil workers being targeted. While the announcement is expected to sharply reduce abductions, experts say some small criminal gangs may continue the practice. Another large militant group, the Niger Delta Volunteer Peoples Force, also supports the government's plan.

No financial figure has been given for the Delta development project, but funding would come from oil revenues.

Offor says initially the plan probably will have little effect on reducing vandalism of oil pipelines because locals steal petrol. Such vandalism often results in fatal fires. He says many of those stealing petrol are driven to do so by poverty.